Sunday, 12 April 2020

Newburn (Virtual) Relays


Running a leg of the (virtual) Newburn Relays was possibly my highlight of the week. Regarded as the biggest early season club affair of the season here in the North East of England, normally it involves 4 senior men (or vet men) to a team, or teams of 3 women. With all this ‘isolation’ going on and amid the climate of social distancing, we were keen to sign up for the event. It was organised by Simon Pryde of Tyne Bridge Harriers. His event was organised through Farcebook and involved teams of 3 running their own legs somewhere remotely and then submitting the results. Just a bit of fun. With the girls taking up my suggestion of forming their own team, Missus Mac et moi needed another body to complete our crack team. We thought about asking Jamie or Kris. Mo was unavailable; so we called upon the services of the Bellahouston Road Runners crack runner, Ant. He had, until recently, been training for the Manchester Marathon, but was seemingly thwarted at every turn; if it wasn’t a storm which resulted in the cancelling of his Wrexham Half, it was the arrival of the Andromeda strain which meant Manchester was also postponed.

There is almost exhaustive tv coverage of this business which is probably not healthy. I have been largely avoiding the news. Never have I seen so much of Nicola on the box. Does she do park-runs? I don’t know. Anyway, I digress. Thinking about where I would do my 2.2mile stint, my thoughts turned to the local track. Nice and flat.

Friday was a lovely day with warm spring sunshine and little wind. I jogged 3 miles to the track. As expected the main gate was locked so I had to ease my skinny torso under the other gate in a covert ‘Joe Wicks type’ stylee.  The Dark Destroyer had just finished her leg, clocking 12:30 something and had snuck out of the track by some other improvised exit. I jogged a lap around the track, then dropped my hat and pressed ‘start’ on my garmin. Nearly five laps or so later as the GPS clocked up 1.1 miles I turned and cracked on back around the outside lane, skipping over the melting track beneath my mercurial feet and creating my own speed vortex. The rabbits looked on agog. A nearby hedgehog looked bemused, but then continued knitting. My pacing was sound and running a steady heart rate of around 150bpm, I delivered a 5:50 first mile or so improving to somewhere nearer 5:38min/mile for the return.  The time-piece said 12m:59s for 2.25m. Very satisfactory. I wasn’t in any grief at the end and in no way worn out, puffed up or creaking like an old wreck dashed against the jagged cliffs of expectation. I wiped the slaver off my vest and jogged a further 2 miles home, waving at no-one as I proceeded down the empty High Street. I expect that the results should be out Late Monday or Tuesday.  

Clocking in another 50 mile training week, I probably need to start working on my diet and core.  My auntie, the one from Perth, keeps sending me video clips that she thinks I’ll find amusing. She’s over 70 and no doubt, bored. I am sure she would dearly love the chance to lace up her Hokas and bang out a mile or two along the leafy lanes of Dunkeld or wherever in her support tights.  It would certainly be a surprise to her husband. They, like many, are stuck indoors.

I have been supplementing my diet with multi-vits and have, at last, plucked up the courage to have a look at my under-siege pension which I had been mentally stroking in a smug and self-congratulatory manner only a month earlier.  I bet Casey Ryback hasn’t had the same problems. There’s alot to be said for a Government or Services pension arrangement. Maybe I should’ve joined the Argylls' all those years ago. Who knows. All I know is that there’s still work to be done to improve the running and hopefully find myself in good nic if and when races resume.  Easter Blessings, all. Pip, Pip.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Strange Times


Its been a funny old week. Funny, just without the humour. Another 50 miles of training shoe-horned into my allocated 7 hours a week.  I’ve averaged around 7:10 min/mile for the week and I’m in good shape. The weather is also on the up.  Several reasons to be grateful.

Last Sunday, we attempted to start our weeks ‘training’ camp in a cottage in a nowhere location about a mile outside Aberfoyle. I was really looking forward to a week running in the hills. However, we had barely unloaded the car when the owner put in a surprise appearance and advised us, apologetically, that the place was closed and we might consider re-packing the car and going home. She promised a refund. Having driven the 3 hours north via Glasgow, I sat on the rear bumper and surveyed the remote forest, the birds chirping, the squirrels jumping in the late afternoon sunshine. It was enough to make you weep. We returned home via a chip shop in Dalkeith.  I was thankful that at least we had had a meal out! Maybe the last for a good wee while. The inaugural Dunbar Multi-terrain half has, of course, been cancelled together with the Gartmorn 6 and the Hartlepool 5m at the end of March.

We’ve been given leave to take an hours exercise a day. So this week I have tried a new route up Whorral Bank and then along the bypass cutting up by Fairmoor and then down to Mitford before returning home. It’s exactly 8 miles door-to-door. After getting the hill out of the way at mile 2, it’s a flattish run where you can disengage your brain and take in the air. It’s true, there have been some new joggers out and the pavement has been peppered with older couples taking the air rather than the shops, so I’ve mostly been running on the road, taking the courtesy to give everyone plenty of space. With everything cancelled or closed, the scope of what I can report on the blog is, not surprisingly, severely curtailed.   I had to give myself a little illumination, so I pre-entered the Lairaig Ghru, the race I decided was this years target. That was before it all went tits-up.

However, outwith my hours run, possibly the highlight of my day, I am reverting to trying to keep myself warm and rested. I have checked out how I might boost my immune system. Over-training is a no-no. It seems, also, that my hot baths, the small sanctuary where I read, are out. Ironically, there has been more than enough time to read. After completing William Boyds enjoyable ‘The New Confessions’, I have been making excellent progress with Dan Browns ‘The Da Vinci Code’. I am also ramping up the fruit and multi-vits.  I have been avoiding the shops. You can live on surprisingly little. I have been eating more since the lockdown started than I was beforehand. I have also run out of beer tonight. I probably shouldn’t be drinking any alcohol anyway; no marks on the ‘immunity charts’ and no marks on the ‘serious athlete chart’.  However, I have been getting plenty of kip, so if and when the lurgy comes knocking I’ll hopefully be ready for the contest, the only one that looks like it hasn’t yet been cancelled.  

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Brough Law


(foties by Jill Bennett)
Als diary entry: Short entry - the Ides of March. 
This week has had little to commend itself. But today I found myself making the trip to the Brough Law Fell Race up at Ingram Valley not far away from Wooler with Missus Mac. I always thought Wooler should really be bigger in the hill running world than it is. Plenty of potential and great running around there.

Chef Linds', who had run the xc the day before, agreed to accompany Missus Mac round the 5 mile AS (short, steep) course.  I reckon there were around 100 in attendance and while the sun was out, the wind was definitely getting up. I ran to the car to add a Helly Hansen to my T-shirt. The race starts with a heart strangling ascent before the course plateau’s out . There is a tough long grassy climb at the far end before you turn and come back on yourself. It’s a lasso sort of route. Probably around 1000ft of climbing. I paid my £5 and was happy not to be paying the £4 parking charge levied on yesterdays North East cross country event in Sunderland.  
After a couple of notices from the organiser JB, we kicked off and I walked-ran-walked up the hill. I began to pick up a few places once we were at the top and continued picking off a couple of runners before the far end. I tracked Tim McCall  (Norham) up some climb into the gale force wind. I could see Keith Murray (Teviotdale) and Vaughan Hemy (N Shields) ahead. 
I drove on hard at the turn as we began a fast descent toward a burn. Hammering down the valley side to try and make some ground, I lost my footing on the wet grass and went for a skite along the wet surface. No injury, only mild embarrassment.  I had only just recovered crossing the burn and then stile, when I heard Tim (now behind) yell as he was blown onto the barbed wire. I caught a North Shields runner at the top of the steep climb with Robyn Bennett and the three of us ploughed back along the gently rising ridge fighting with the ridiculous crosswind. I imagine we might have been dealing with some serious wind chill if we had slowed down or the event had been longer. By this time Hemy and Murray were out of sight, but I wasn’t making any ground on them anyway, so next time perhaps. 
I came down the last descent at high speed almost making up the 100 yards that the runner in front of me had, but he pipped me at the post. Probably around 48 minutes and placed upper to mid table, I imagine. I dumped my bum bag at the car and re-ascended to see the Missus and Linds come back, but somehow they eluded me by taking the long way round a crag and were finished by the time I got back down with the Sweeper. A hard event in the wind, but very happy to have had another competitive run. It was JB's birthday and we were all given a generous slice of cake to celebrate. An enjoyable morning out.  

Sunday, 8 March 2020

The Cupar 5 (2020)


I ran the Cupar 5 yesterday. Didn’t stop once. I weighed myself last week and it seems the weight loss has stuttered somewhat. However, at least the scales didn’t announce ‘no coach parties, please’ when I stood on them. If I manage a steady 10 today, it’ll be another 50 mile week. I have had a long uninterrupted spell of continuous running in the last 6 weeks. Its therefore frustrating that this virus business is threatening my salazaresque programme, the virus which goes under two names like a dark cloaked Dickensian figure with bent head, fag in mitted hand, smoking furtively around every corner. 

As I drove to Cupar I was disgusted at the amount of litter strewn along the A1. A national disgrace. I also fought to remind myself where the start was. Perhaps this was not surprising, considering I last ran Cupar perhaps 8 or 9 year ago. I ran it for the first time after the course had been re-measured and it was lengthened by 180 yards (so I read in an earlier blog). 
Arriving in good time there were various random runners jogging up and down the high street. I wandered to the YMCA on Bonnygate and collected my number. I used the facilities and ensured I washed my hands. However, opening lavatory doors afterwards is always a challenge. I sauntered back to the car and pinned on my number and went for a warm up to find the start-line.

There was a full field of 250 for this event. It is also apparently a counter in the Hawks annual handicap league thing.  With 10 minutes to go, I binned my trackies and top in the hedge and slipped the car key into my gloved hand. I wear kids knitted gloves when I run. They fit neatly and are cheap as chips to replace. I don't like wearing a matching pair, either. 
As I stood watching the field gather, a large group of Hawks spotted me and they all trooped up to shake my hand in welcome. Had the word about elbow tapping or the foot focused greeting not reached Tayside?  'What a cheery bunch' I mused as I switched gloves from left to right and stepped back another few paces.
A short announcement was made by the Fife A.C. organisers, but I couldn’t hear them, what with wearing my welders mask and ear muffs.  We were off soon afterwards and I spent the first mile trying to get my heart rate up to the requisite 155rpm. Dragging that oxygen bottle around was a bitch tho' and I soon ditched it.  I ran simply, inhaling the spent vapours of the 60 guys and gals ahead.   
I found myself in 'no mans' land after a mile, running into a brisk headwind. No good at all, so I put in a burst and tucked in behind a group with the 3rd placed woman in. Half of them seemed to be from the PH running club. As the road stretched out, the rest of their club appeared ahead in a long string of black and red vests. A Kinross runner in green vest and headband came past and I tagged in with him, trying to find shelter. I glanced at my watch after 2 miles. I was doing 6:30’s. I told myself I only had another half mile to do before I turned and had the wind at my back. Kinross man pulled away just before the turn as a Hawk came by me and gave me some encouragement. ‘Come on you baldy old slapper’ he said’.   
I caught what looked like a Cambuslang runner near the turn. His gait was a little awkward, but it seemed to be working for him. We jockeyed hard for whatever position we were in and with 400m to go, the string snapped and I let him go. The last mile was around 6:10 pace, but that was fine given that we had a downhill and tailwind. Crossing the line I think it was about 32m:14s, (63rd) nicely under the 32:30 that I had previously planned as my target time. 
I warmed down jogging back up the course watching the rest of the field come home and then toggled back to the car. A quick cuppa in the hall afterwards (but drunk outside) and then a prompt drive home was the order of the day. The Fife Whisky festival was on in the town, but there was no chance of me making an appearance there. After all, I could probably have my own festival at home, given the various bottles salted around the kitchen. But a minute on the lips and all that…..not much whisky drinking going around these 'ere parts at the mo. 

Monday, 2 March 2020

Alnwick Cross Country 2020

After a solid weeks training I deigned to make an appearance at the nearby Alnwick Cross Country. I've been nursing my weight loss over the weeks with some modest success. Most of this is to do with eating prawn cocktail salads and cold smoked mackeral in place of the usual main meals of pie, pasta, chips and tatties. It's evident, however, that the war against snacking and beer is something more demanding. Snacking is well dug in on the high ground. It will probably require guerrilla tactics.
The cross country programme this season has been decimated by the wet weather. This disturbance in the XC Force has been due more to problems with car parking rather than the courses themselves. After all, there's nothing better than spending 45 minutes running through clagg and losing your shoes in the yielding bowels of the earth.
The forecast was windy but dry, and although there were one or two passing squalls, it was almost Springlike. Elsewhere, speedy joe was running (and winning) the Cambuslang 10k, but us lesser mortals had to make do with lacing up our 'hardly clean' spikes and warming up as best we could. I had to make a late dash to the chemist for some Compeed to protect my heels from my 'not-broken-in-yet' shoes. Other than that there were no dramas and the dark destroyer and chef linds finished top ten in the women's race with Mrs Mac some way behind. She made the point that she still beat 70.  I spent much of the time during the women's race entertaining Master T as he toddled around. We had a right good go at trying to find a mole in the molehills that were dotted around the field and between the caravan of tents.
I like this event. The course had been tinkered with from earlier years and its definitely an improvement. They have retained the run through the woods which is right up my street with a sizeable descent immediately afterwards. If you know how to descend you can easily make up a couple of places over those more timid types or folk that haven't got their spikes on and are a little more wary. I was off in the slow pack and with a backdrop of Alnwick Castle we clattered off down the field and up toward the wood. I had to stop for a few seconds on the first lap to re-tie my lace on my right shoe. I was 54th at the end of the first lap and moved up to 51st on the second. However, as its a handicap, there was a boatload of folk from the medium and fast pack who came through in a rapid and unseemly manner on the 3rd lap (during which my other lace worked loose). However, there was little chance of my shoe coming off and I just put up with it whipping my ankle as I came through the woods for the last time. I finished 68th (350 in the field) at the end and gulping in the air I had a repeated dose of dry wretching which in my book is a sign that you've over done it. Excellent. Confirmation of a good, committed run if one was required. 3rd counter for the club. I felt much better than I had at the Scottish Masters. My spikes arrived back later in the day and had been cleaned by Linds to an inch of their life. Finding your daughters doing stuff like that is a slippery slope. Next she'll be bringing me my slippers and cocoa and a little later booking me on a flight to Switzerland.
Anyway, next up Cupar. Best clean your own shoes.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Royal Signals: I've gotta get out of here...

Perusing the shelves in the mens department of M&S I happened upon some bottles of aftershave. Being the freeloader that I am, I removed the top of the sample bottle with casual nonchalance (is there any other type) and sprayed some on my wrist and proceeded to wipe it across my chin. I inhaled deeply all the heady perfume. I walked off in a fragrant cloud of volatiles. When the effect wore off and I came to, I realised that my old reliable bottle at home had lost all its pazzazz. I checked this when I returned home and having had my suspicions confirmed, I found myself back in said store buying the overpriced fragrance and binning my 14 month old half bottle of whatever it was called....something like Caddisfly....or Spinmonkey or something. Lee Mack does a great sketch about perfume adverts. Anyway, where is all this going?
It was the Royal Signals Relays on Saturday. Clubs only. 4 men to a m50 team. Probably the biggest event for North East clubs other than perhaps the Elswick Relays at Easter. It was wet. It was windy. I had shaved 'specially first thing to ensure my chin was as dynamic as possible, and not forgetting to 'splash it all over'. I was in the team and on the third leg. It's a two lap affair around a lake in a park. Just over a mile per lap. I was happy to be running and decided on the gloves and arm warmers, but no tights, just shorts below. I have some new trainers. They are a metrosexual pale blue. I was quite keen to get them mucky and had a lap or two warm up playing in the puddles.
Anyway, after the first lap (leg 1) of the race we were in 7th place and there was a one minute gap from our first leg runner to 3rd place and the dizzy heights of a podium place. After 2 laps the gap had widened. Paul W went off on the second leg and pulled one minute back on the runner from Crook AC who were 6th and within reach. I readied myself at the start knowing we were not in the medals, but that I needed to do something decent. As Paul finished, I set off into the headwind. It took ages for me to get into any sort of pace and my heart rate and breathing were all over the shop. I passed the lad from Crook at the end of the first lap, but regretted it when I realised he could spend the next lap tucked in behind me. Thankfully that didn't happen, and during the second lap I passed Mrs Mac who was in the womens vet team. With my initial hard effort out, I found myself dying on the way back and tried to look strong as I came in to hand over to the 4th runner Neil. I knew that I hadn't run very well, however. Catching my breath I did a couple more laps in reverse to support Neil before heading back to the tent. We finished 6th. My time was 14:09, almost a minute down on previous times. However, everyone else's times were also down, so no big deal. And as I got changed and wiped the slaver off my neck, I knew that even if I wasn't the fastest, at least I smelled the part. You won't , however, find me facing down a buffalo and burying bangles and jewellery in the desert with my shovel. In the words of Derek Zoolander, I am slow but happy to know that I'm still ridiculously, ridiculously good looking.  

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Scottish Master XC Championships 2020

I thought I was well prepared for the Scottish Masters Cross Country competition, but I was deluding myself. The day before I had checked out the train times and cost rather than take the car. The Trainline website now shows the cheapest price. It was a fifty quid return to Glasgow and the venue at the McMaster Sports Centre in Johnstone was eminently walk-able from the rail station. The forecast wasn't the best with Storm Ciara sweeping in late afternoon, but I considered I would be well finished by then.
As it was the biggest race I've entered for a good wee while, I laid out all my stuff on Friday and with new spikes and shorts I was in business. An excellent massage from Sean Maley on Thursday and a rapid four mile 7 min/mile training run later in on the Friday was just the tonic to boost my confidence.
I got to Glasgow in good time and had soup in RBS in Argyle Street. Yes, soup and roll in a bank. crackers. Actually, it was carrot and coriander and the roll was warm. very nice indeedy.
There was a bus replacement from Paisley to Johnstone and a fair bit of muppetry was observed from those dis-organising the seam-filled transport arrangements. No matter, I arrived at Johnstone and began the mile walk to the venue. I was intercepted some way along the route by a car driver who turned out to be Susan Ridley. No slouch; a formidable runner.  She offered a lift and I accepted. Saving my wee legs..just the job. I thanked her and we tried to work out how to get to the hall from the car park.
Entering the hall, I  took my number from the envelope and changed my spikes from 12mm to 6mm. 'Nothing too arduous out there' I mused.  Just before the womens race I warmed up for a mile on the course and came off with a left heal that was cutting up badly with the new shoe. No-one in the Hawks had any Compeed and I kicked myself for not packing some. Utter buffoonery on my part. My only option was to find a chemist and buy some, or risk severing my heel over 5 miles.  I took off through the local housing estate and asked directions. The chemist was in a small group of shops a mile away. It was, of course, shut. I improvised and bought 3 large fabric plasters from the corner shop for the princely sum of 60p each and galloped the mile back to base and slapped them on under my sock. It was back on with the spikes and then up to the start.
Around 200 set off and I had to remind myself that I was one of the older types. There were, however, several m55's around me and I began the 5 mile run toward the back of the pack. I failed to move much more through the field and after 3 miles I was tiring, no longer making any ground on anyone. I looked at my garmin and realised I had failed to start it. More muppetry. I also realised that I hadn't bothered to check whether it was 3 or 4 laps of the tortuous and contrived course. Seeing the string of oldies around me, I wondered what joe public would make of the spectacle.  As we circled the football field (within which a game was taking place) I lost around 6 places as runners came by. It was all a little slow motion; the guys passing me didn't fly by, but crept past almost incrementally and minutes later they were still only 30 metres ahead. On a normal day I could have attempted to bridge the gap, but I was scunnered. Not so much the wheels 'falling off', more of a 'muffled slow puncture'. I was resigned to 4 laps when I was confronted by the finishing line as I came around a bend and shot off at high speed to fend off those that would seek to push me further down the rankings. Scoundrels. 'The results', I hear you ask....'the results?' 117th and 15th m55 and no cigar. I was a counter in the Hawks team, but as we finished 10th, it was all a little academic.
I met Susan at the end and we exchanged experiences. I suspected she did alright and turned out she won her age group. She was returning to the hall for the presentation.
As I walked back to the station I felt sanguine about the performance, but very happy that the impromptu plasters on my heel had worked and that a few beers awaited me in Glasgow. My train was booked for 7:45, so I had plenty of time to experience the delights of the Drum and Monkey and then Maxs Grill on Queen Street where I was joined in the best seats in the house by cat and ant. All in all a most enjoyable day out.